Monday, April 20, 2009

Sticks and Stones

I missed hula class last week. I got seduced by promises of bright lights, hot spots and being in with the in crowd. So I attended a play, "I Am My Own Wife," and the after party at Departure, the ultra-hot new rooftop restaurant at The Nines Hotel, that was thrown by Portland celebrity, Thomas Lauderdale, leader of Pink Martini. Ho hum. No hula for me, thanks. I can't dance with a glass of champagne in my hand.

But I got back into the hula groove on Saturday morning when my hula sister Debbie invited the class to her house to commemorate the last day of the 2009 Merrie Monarch Festival by watching her DVD of last year's festival. More champagne, this time in mimosas, and a potluck brunch to enjoy while we watched the kahiko (ancient) dance competition, with halaus from Hawai'i, Las Vegas, Oakland and L.A. To reach the level where they'd be invited to compete in Merrie Monarch, they would have to be very good to begin with. And these groups were downright inspiring -- dancing in synch, keeping their lines straight, loudly vocalizing their kaheä (refrains from the chant).

We hula sisters, perhaps loosened up a bit from the mimosas, were loud in vocalizing our approval of the kane (men) dancers, and we had a few choice words for the hunky men that were adorned with malo (loin cloths) tied with big bows in front. From the safety of Debbie's couch, we voiced some bold ideas about untying those bows.

But what we really liked were the sticks and stones. We loved a dance performed with long sticks, about four feet long or so, that the dancers shook fiercely and pounded on the floor. It was very dramatic. I learned that the name for stick dancing is kälä'au.

Another great performance was by a group of women who all held two rocks in each hand and clicked them like castanets. The rocks used in this fashion are called 'ili'ili. (As a longtime Portlander, I couldn't help but think of the old elevator operators at Meier & Frank -- now The Nines Hotel -- who'd attract riders with a click of their castanets. Ah, memories . . . )

We also liked the groups that equipped each dancer with her own ipu, or gourd. In our experience, the ipu has been used only to beat time in our dances. But these women waved them around in a kind of gourd ballet. Their ipus were not small, either. It was great upper body exercise! We were so impressed by their exertion that we poured ourselves another mimosa.

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